Gratitude: Social Currency

It feels great to get a pat on the back. Everyone needs a little appreciation here and there. Dish it out to others as much as you can. Genuinely thank someone for making your life better. If you can’t find an honest way he or she makes your life better, identify a characteristic you admire and point it out as a good thing. It makes a huge difference and may win you a new friend. Express enough genuine gratitude, and you may find yourself surrounded in friends.

Hierarchy Does Not Work Anymore

In a world where everyone in an organization needs to be on the same page, hierarchy can be fatal. The time it takes for information to travel up and down the ladder, pass decisions up to the qualified decision maker, and fix broken translations will derail your team. Hierarchy in an information-age company turns into a big clumsy game of telephone, a jumbled mess of words and directives totally unacceptable and avertable in a world ripe with efficient communication technology.

Hierarchy today helps only in one scenario: eliminating the time it takes to collectively vote on a decision that needs to be made. In some situations, big decisions need to be made quickly without consulting the committee. That said, the time it takes to disseminate and re-orient everyone around the decision may take as long or considerably longer than taking the time to vote in the first place.

An efficient organization awards every member of its team the autonomy and trust to make decisions and solve problems when they arise. An efficient organization rallies everyone around a core mission and invites everyone to shape objective extensions of that mission. An efficient organization promotes true transparency, total accessibility, and the free-flow of information. Everyone who needs to have a say has a say. No one is left out. And no one needs to answer to anyone but themselves and their work.

Phones Can Call People, Too

I think people forget that phones can still be used for voice conversations. I get so many back and forth text messages or email chains on a day to day basis. In the hours that pass trading notes, the discussion could have passed and resolved in a handful of minutes. Texts make sense for updates. Emails make sense for a bigger pile of information. For making big decisions or catching up? Not even close.

Call someone. It’s quicker, more personal and less ambiguous.

Agree On the Mission

Before doing anything else, you should check to make sure your entire team agrees with and can own the mission at hand. It’s very important to make sure that you are on the same page with everyone before embarking on a collaboration. If people diverge in completely different directions, you stretch the project thin and go nowhere. You cannot easily push the cart in one direction if your partner is pulling it in the other. Discuss the mission and agree on the meaning behind the problem you are trying to solve first before setting out to find a solution. If everyone is pushing in the same direction, you may have enough momentum to get the cart out of the mud.

Surround Yourself With Dreamers

Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams.” I love the quote, but it predisposes that you already have dreams outlined. When your dreams are not yet refined, surround yourself with other dreamers. Live and breathe conversation and collaboration with people who embrace lofty ideas, live outside of themselves and strive to change the world. Through these relationships, you can shape an actionable vision and live out your purpose. That’s a huge deal.

Many Gen Y folks (myself included) challenge the value of higher education. One irrefutable benefit to attending a university, however, is the opportunity to meet and foster relationships with other dreamers. College, above all else, is a forum to explore and learn. In few other places can you share in the joy of discovery or higher thinking with others.

Even with your dreams defined, always keep good company with people equipped to make a difference. Dreamers roll with other dreamers.

Collaboration, Not Compromise

To repatriate, rebuild, and rekindle our nation, we need to set aside partisanship and find common ground. To do that, I urge a small tweak to our political lexicon: replace “compromise” with “collaboration.” Compromise implies two sides with disparate interests; collaboration suggests multiple specialized parties on the same team. No one should ever surrender beliefs, but it is important to first discover a platform of common agreement to move forward together under the same banner. At the heart of every issue lies at least a sliver of mutual consent and values everyone can share. Identify that first, and we can move forward together. Easier said than done, but it’s worth a morning shout.

Call People With Your Phone (That’s What It’s There For)

Random calls work like magic. Through cold-calling old friends in an effort to “stay in touch,” I’ve discovered great collaborators, learned things I could never imagine, and been offered jobs. Keeping your network fresh is important. And it’s really easy to do when you find yourself bored, commuting, or waiting for laundry. Just pick up your phone. Skim through your contacts. Pick someone you have not spoken to in a while. Call the person. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Think you need a reason to call someone? “Catching up” is a perfect reason to call someone. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: stay in touch.

Don’t Waste Gatherings

Time together is a valuable commodity. Our Constitution honors the freedom to assemble in the very First Amendment. Time together should not be wasted on passive consumption. Active minds together exchange ideas and experiences that, when combined, can overrule the sum of their parts. The classroom, conference room, or venue should be reserved for collaboration, discussion, or audience involvement. Dialogue should be a two-way street, a symmetrical relationship. With the Internet more ubiquitous than ever, we have the freedom to access, share, and consume information whenever and wherever we want. We can connect with lectures, sermons, and updates asymmetrically on our private time. We should never waste the opportunity to commingle when sharing a room together. Spend private time well; spend time together better.

The Self-Correcting Company

Give your team ownership and authority enough to solve problems they discover without having to ask your permission first. If you are worried they will correct errors in a manner you do not agree with (or worried they will try to fix things you do not feel are broken), replace those people with others you trust – or learn to open your mind and have faith.

As team leader, you cannot act on everything yourself and are too far removed to supervise every detail of your organization. Therefore, you must either create a system of reporting and permissions to channel all information to you OR give your people the freedom to take care of it. For leaders who want control, the channel system sounds utopian – in practice, it is a staggeringly inefficient and damaging bureaucratic architecture. You simply have too few hours in the day to make decisions for everyone, and your organization will spite you for it.

To keep your company afloat and moving forward, empower your team to use their skills as they see fit. Trust me, it will be more stress off your back, and your company will be better for it.

Cooks and Trees

Too many cooks in the kitchen. I hear that phrase a lot. Companies or groups with many people putting their hands on it, diluting it, confusing it, and sending it off course run the risk of destroying or burying beautiful things. Understandably, too many people pissing on the same tree does not help the tree grow. Be wary of committee projects, even democratic projects. Too many people with too many opinions can result in too many compromises. And if I’ve learned anything, compromised products are seldom successful.

That said, be careful blaming the opinions or the people involved. It’s not necessarily the cooks’ faults for having opinions; it may very well be the kitchen’s fault for having room enough for too many cooks. If you open the door to that level of collaboration, it must be organized. Fortunately, there are such things as hyper-collaborative companies and organized brain trusts (Pixar is my favorite). With strategy and structure, an over-staffed kitchen could be a very great thing. Do not blame the people; blame structure.